History of herpetological research on the Balkan peninsula
Southern Europe consists mainly of three large and separate peninsulas shaping the northern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. Of these, the Iberian peninsula in the west harbours two countries, viz. Portugal and Spain, while the central Apenninian peninsula is made up by just one country, viz. Italy. The Balkan peninsula, in contrast, consists of significantly more countries, including independent states established upon the breakup of former Yugoslavia, then Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. Geographically, as defined by the famous Serbian geographer Jovan Cvijić, also the south of Romania and the European part of Turkey („Turkish Thrace“) have to be added. This historically induced multinational cultural diversity had also great influence on the history of science, including herpetology.
The global birthplace and also the name-provider of the term herpetology was Greece and its language, where for instance Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote an astonishingly exact description of the chameleon while the role of snakes was more a mythological one, nonetheless influential for the entire realm of the Greek-Roman antiquity. But since the origin of modern herpetology by the fundamental work of Carolus Linnaeus, mostly researchers from more northern parts of Europe started to study Balkan herpetology.
The lecture will review the main contributors to the herpetology of the Balkan peninsula. They will be discussed countrywise, according to the contemporary geographic delimitations. A focus is laid on the remarkable shift from initially mostly foreign researchers towards autochthonous herpetologists taking care by themselves for the exploration of their respective countries. An overview of the zoogeographical importance of Balkan amphibians and reptiles is given, followed by a summary of important endemic species living in this herpetological diversity hotspot.